If I’m honest, I’d hoped – as opposed to reasonably expected – that the whole takeover thing would have been finished by now and I’d be one of many waking up with a banging lockdown hangover and various WATSAPP photos on my phone of Mags of my acquaintance in various stages of euphoric meltdown. Ah well, this is Newcastle United, so it’s never easy, always the hard-way and we have to wait a wee while longer. It is what it is and all that.

Is the takeover going to be completed?

There is no-one now saying it won’t. No-one will put their cock on the block and will say this isn’t going to happen. Not even the naysayers who have consistently scotched the idea Newcastle United would move from Ashley’s death grip. There is no evidence to suggest this takeover won’t be completed and the club won’t move into the hands of the Staveley-Saudi-Reubens consortium.

Not that I’m totally bullish in that regard. If we get to this time next week and the club is still in the hands of Ashley, then I think I’ll start twitching because we have consistently been told the buyers have exclusivity until mid-May and let’s be honest, by 8/May/20 we will be getting very close to that bewitching hour.   

So, we wait for the white smoke to billow out the top of the Milburn … or it’s announced by a Saudi news agency … whichever you prefer.

Just to get a sense of the facts, we understand the PL Owners and Directors test commenced on 9/Apr/20. We have been reassured constantly of “No Red Flags”. The test isn’t an ethical conundrum but one of legal and finance checks. If you are dull enough to want to understand what those checks are exactly – just click here and the bit you need is in Section F.

It is inconceivable the consortium will fail these checks.

Similarly, the UK Government is on the record as stating clearly it will not intervene in the takeover. That’s largely to be expected from a Tory party which supports a free-market, neo-liberal, laissez-faire economy. It should perhaps however be noted that the takeover of Chelsea and Man City by a Russian oligarch and another middle-eastern nation state, with human rights issues of its own, took place on the watch of the New Labour Government. Though there are those who would argue that brand of Labour economic thinking wasn’t so different from what preceded or followed it. That discussion isn’t for here. Ethics wasn’t a consideration for the country’s only credible left-of-centre political party either in the buying and selling of the country’s football clubs. No-one has changed any laws or introduced new ones to govern football club ownership.

I think we can say with a degree of confidence the PL Owners and Directors test has been delayed or complicated by the intervention of the Qatari-owned BE-IN TV company, who have made allegations against Saudi Arabia that it has knowingly allowed piracy of its TV rights across the Middle East and North African (MENA) regions. From what I can glean, previous legal action in that regard has failed and in any case does not link to the consortium attempting to buy Newcastle United. It isn’t a show-stopper.

That of course is really easy for me to skate over and I’ve no doubt in order to protect itself from any future litigation, the PL has to take time to consider the representations brought by BEIN and it may, at some point in the future, have to provide evidence as to how exactly it has dealt with those concerns. That is what is holding up the takeover so far as I can see it. But it will serve only to pause the takeover rather than derail it, though if it is part of a wider strategy to prevent the consortium taking over the club, only time will tell. I’m always mindful we may not have the full facts available to draw copper-fastened conclusions.

It is a pain in the arse however and I’ll confess to waking at unearthly hours, squinting into various news channels on my phone and muttering “get the fuck on with it man” as my good lady wonders what she did wrong to get lumbered with such a loon.

Into the waiting period we are seeing a feeding frenzy of coverage, almost all of it nonsense on stilts or designed to provoke a reaction and generate clicks. Driving you, gentle reader to pages in order to generate advertising revenue to keep the whole thing going is how it works – whether you regard what you have read as worthwhile or complete garbage doesn’t really matter. We have to be very discerning with the football media we consume.

But let’s start with the supposed rival US bid which bubbled up last weekend and has now largely sunk without trace as a viable line of inquiry. We have been variously told by news lines that American TV wallah Henry Mauriss has offered £350m to buy Newcastle United. That is around £50m more than what Ashley is reported to have accepted from the Staveley-led consortium. We’re variously told Mauriss, a Spurs fan, wants to copy the Liverpool model at SJP.

I have a few questions for those who have covered this apparent story.

  • why has Mauriss waited 13 years of Ashley’s ownership to suddenly talk about making a bid for United?
  • why has he waited until a potential buyer has exchanged contracts with Ashley, paid a deposit, established exclusivity and be in the latter stages of the PL Owners and Directors Test before making a bid?
  • why has he made an apparent bid which is £50m in excess of what Ashley has accepted from the Staveley-led consortium?

If you thought that didn’t make any sense, ask yourself why the supposed US bid is being supported by Chris Ronnie, described thus by The Mirror:

“Ronnie was jailed for four years in December 2014 for a £1m fraud while head of now defunct sportswear company JJB Sports. Ronnie has a long association with Ashley and is thought to have brought the rival American bid to the table in January, although he would have no involvement beyond that if a deal was reached”.

Now there is a spiv who would likely struggle with the PL Owners and Directors Test. Though being an associate of Mike Ashley suggests a significant character flaw all of its own.

None of it makes any sense whatsoever and it would suggest to me there are those in the football media who could do with developing a greater scepticism before they allow their chains to be pulled by people close to Mike Ashley.

We have covered the problematic nature of Saudi Arabia’s lamentable human rights record and to its credit, via the excellent Podcast, TF has spoken to critics of the takeover and to Amnesty International. Unlike others who have taken a bizarre aim at Amnesty International, this fanzine has engaged with those people, had a sensible discussion and we are the better for it. For me it would have been more newsworthy if Amnesty had NOT written to the PL about our club’s takeover.

This isn’t how I’d like football to operate in this country but the Premier League sits within a context of political and economic thinking enshrined in law. The game itself has a certain culture and history of its own greatly distinctive to Germany, which many supporters envy. Although amazingly high-profile and prestigious, Newcastle United is little more than an SME in business terms and commercially for all we will consistently value it as a form of community identity, pride and heritage, none of that shows up on a balance sheet. We, the supporters have absolutely no say in how our club is traded between billionaires. For those who genuinely and sincerely oppose the sale of United to Saudi interests, I’d suggest taking that up with the person who has the ultimate power to stop the sale …. Mike Ashley – Newcastle United is his property. Good luck with that.   

If they fail in that regard (just a punt they might struggle in asking Ashley to consult his conscience) then I recommend they devote their time and energy supporting a root and branch reform of football to place the ownership of our clubs within the ownership of supporters. As one who has been previously been involved in fan activism, I think I can say we could have used their help.

I’ll wait.

Latterly, I was sent a social media of a post from a prominent journalist on a quality newspaper who claimed at this point, a price for the sale of Newcastle United has still not been agreed. He has claimed that information comes from the selling side. Sighs. It would, wouldn’t it? As did the spurious US bid and other assorted crap.

Now unless I am missing something here and I’ll stress I’m not legally qualified, contracts have been exchanged, a deposit paid and all the terms of a sale agreed.

What we have been consistently told is once the PL Owners & Directors Test is complete and approved, monies will be transferred to Ashley’s piggy-bank and the sale complete. Ashley can fuck off and spew into as many fireplaces as his heart desires. Our revenge, hopefully, will be to live well.

We have been told previously that there are financial penalties to be activated on both parties were they to break the contracts they have been exchanged. It just appears head-banging were parties to get to that point without understanding what the price is for the club isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Although I’m not legally qualified, neither is the journalist himself and I note this revelation hasn’t made its way from a personal twitter account onto the pages of the newspaper that employs him.

He may of course be right and everyone else wrong. Time will tell.

More substantially, we discovered that Bander bin Mogren the chief operating officer of Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was added as a director of NCUK Investment Ltd on 9 April. That is the date the PL Owners & Directors checks commenced. NCUK Investment is the shell company established in January by Yasir al-Rumayyan, the director of the PIF, as a device to manage the transfer of shares from Ashley into the ownership of the new consortium. This is real stuff lads and lasses. 

Though the grey detail of the takeover has attracted frenzied interest, I have to congratulate the Friends of Steve Bruce (FoSB) in the media for some gallant work this last week. Without exception the good ol’ boys of the SKY SPORTS and Talksport studios have been talking up Brucie’s credentials, telling us what a great job he has been doing this season. I’ll leave those who stood in the away ends at Burnley, Palace, Leicester, Norwich, Arsenal et al to decide on what you have experienced this season as well as the dog-shit served up at SJP since August.

Although, many paid up members in the FoSB are ex-players who know Bruce from their own professional days or are hacks who if not friends and beneficiaries of his indulgence of them, I do tip my hat to Tim Sherwood. Timothy has excelled himself.  

Sherwood (FoSB) claimed last week that we the giddy supporters of Newcastle United preferred Rafa to Bruce or the prospect of Pochettino because they are foreign and thus more exotic to steak and kidney Steve Bruce. This could be something of a volte-face on the bollocks of a few years ago when Geordies were accused of being biased against any manager or owner who wasn’t from these parts or heaven forfend was a Londoner. Having gas-lighted the football world with this drivel it now appears a new tack might be being adopted by the hard-of-thinking.

It really is laughable but it will be the thin end of the wedge.

We will also be linked with every player on the planet and we can expect some extravagant claims as to who will be making their way to SJP any time soon.  

I don’t doubt those in the media are readying themselves to indulge in every regional-class-based prejudice they can drag out of their wardrobes. Our city, region and community should prepare itself to be trashed, insulted and misrepresented by every half-wit media monkey looking for a reaction.

I remain convinced this takeover and the depositing of significant football power within NE1 will deeply offend the sensibilities of many in the media.

When the takeover is finally complete, I’ll think about those people and smile.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN